‘Tis hard to find a whole Age to imitate, or what Century to Propose for Example. — Sir Thomas Browne
There is perhaps no greater fear for the modern educator than the fear of running into his own student in public. In times of these trials grown men have been known to dive under objects with the swiftness of a sergeant diving into a trench. It is indeed a grave moment when an educator hears some random voice call out “Mr. S—-?” And this only occurs when one finds himself in a store he has no business shopping at. Alas, that is what Christmas has unfortunately become, and it is with great sorrow that the Ambler sees this inevitable practice in his future. In any case, there exists in the mind of many an educator, and perhaps student, the odd sense that their students probably have little in common with them. Thus we find it rather awkward and alarming when our students enjoy the same activities we do. But all this is only meant to lead up to a few experiences I have recently had with my own teacher and much older and wiser professor.
It can be truly said that the best classes ought to be had over beer and tobacco. But since the modern world is absolutely bent on making sure man cannot smoke anywhere, I suppose we must settle for beer. The best class, I say, is the one that meets over beer as men once did regularly. And that’s another modern morbidity–that men do not gather round great pints of ale and have real, genuine discussion. The modern man is to busy doing things, and it’s ironic that nothing ever gets done. It is perhaps a paradox to say that the first thing a man ought to do in order to get something done is to drop everything and get nothing done; it is to drop everything and accomplish everything; it is to drop everything so that your mind can be free and open to contemplate the wild adventures ahead of you; it is, in short, to drop everything and think–or, better, to drop everything and drink. Four men gathered ’round brown, red, gold, or black hued pints will create enough lively discourse to approach any situation with a clear-minded objective.
It is in this very setting that I have had the privilege to have class with an older professor who–as most of the older ones do–has more knowledge stored in his brain than the rest of the department combined. It is a real shame that simply because the older professors refuse to gab about their gender, they are looked at as old dinosaurs who can’t contribute to the current academic conversation. Why anyone would want to contribute to a conversation in which no consensus can be had on even the most fundamental of facts is beyond me, and perhaps that’s why the old professors are so happy and yet so annoyed. I would say the old professor is happy he no longer has to engage in a conversation in which the only reason we know twice two is four is because the academic community has reached a consensus founded on dialogue. Of course, this same academic community will tell you the consensus easily could have been that twice two is twelve, or fourteen, or even–for the sake of interdisciplinary studies–a box jellyfish or an adverb. The old professor can enjoy himself because he has reached a point in his career where his discipline is not regulated by the standards of another discipline. It seems that the best basis in which to judge mathematics is is math, not philosophy, and the best to judge a man’s philosophy is truth, not gender.
So it was that I sat at a table with another colleague and this older professor. It was by far the best class I had because it was the most natural. A man should be able to sit down with a much older man over a beer and have the most fruitful of conversations–ours being the prose style of Hilaire Belloc and how a writer should properly imitate his style. Indeed, it is a false assumption that men have nothing in common with the older generation. It is likely that we actually have more in common with the dead than the living. For the dead often did things that we only talk about doing. Those who came before us went on long ambles and had more terror and adventure in a ten mile trek than we could ever get out of 100.
And perhaps that is the big difference between the Ages. Men once made mountains out of molehills, now we only get annoyed at the molehills, if we even see them. Why just the other day, I was traveling home from work in my car and this very thing occurred. I usually take the same route every day, as routine is a very real blessing from above. However, as I made my way home, it happened that my way was blocked, and, annoyed, I tried a different. This too was blocked, and it was not until the third or fourth roadblock that I completely gave in and lit out for the outskirts of town, fuming. But I must admit that about halfway through the debacle, I thought to myself that a true ambler would not get annoyed but would stop his car and see what the ruckus is all about. Now, it is true that had I been ambling in the way of an ambler, I would have been far more inclined to stop and take a gander, for my way would not have been so easily obstructed. In any case the point of this very incoherent and unfocused rambling is that the modern man should be less concerned about doing things–for truly, he does little as it is, and he should be more concerned about what’s done to him. That is, he should look at the world not as some space where he does this or that. He should realize the world is full of wild and unexpected adventures. Mere existence ought to fill him with enough wonder that he does not feel obligated to do anything but breathe. I do not mean “obligated” here in a moral sense but in a productivity sense. And even in that sense it is only meant to question true productivity. Running around to fill in our schedules with as many entertaining activities as we can is not as productive as taking an hour a day to contemplate the wonder of the thumb. And if we only began to see the wonder and creativity in the smallest of things, we may be more excited to see the grandeur of the big things.
Sam Snow, theficklefarce.com
Written with Little Direction,
December 6th, 2014
Transcribed by Adam the Scribe II
Kansas State University,
December 9, 2014
Photo: “A Group of Gentlemen Drinking”
By Joseph van Aken (Attributed to),
Oil on canvas, n.d.